CINEMA : An icon tested to the point of deconstruction

If you were watching the trailer with half your mind on something else, it would be easy to mistake Clint Eastwood's Absolute Power (15) for an uninteresting film. There's that title for a start. It has a nasty case of the John Grishams: seeming very macho and awe- inspiring (Men jousting! Testosterone overload imminent!) but actually saying something smaller and less meaningful than a stoat's capacity for remorse. Then there's the story.

Clint's lone-wolf jewel thief Luther Whitney is a pretty profound individual. We know this because we first encounter him in an art gallery, wearing a beret and painstakingly sketching a copy of an El Greco painting. Surprised in mid-heist at the house of a Washington powerbroker, Luther watches helplessly from behind a two-way mirror as a less savoury scene is played out before him. In the midst of an illicit seduction, Gene Hackman's drunken bully of a US president turns nasty with the young wife of his venerable political mentor. She is about to stab him in self- defence when she is killed by the president's bodyguards. Does Clint run for the hills and let a corrupt establishment get away with the ensuing cover-up, or does he risk his own life to do the decent thing and simultaneously effect a reconciliation with his estranged daughter?

So far, so obvious, you might think, but a healthy family of complications soon set up house inside that simplistic diagnosis. There is a strange quality about the early part of this film that is extremely compelling. The characters seem to unravel from the top down - Hackman loses control first of his hair, then of his desire for violence, Eastwood the reluctant voyeur lurks behind the mirror, his chin dropping ever nearer to his ankles. Directing yourself means there's no one there to say "For heaven's sake, shut your mouth when you're acting Clint, you look like a disgruntled iguana," but would any other film- maker have had the courage to let him look as bad as he needs to in this film? Even as he outruns two secret service men while carrying a heavy pack, the overwhelming message of Absolute Power is that Clint Eastwood is old.

It is the resulting sense of the fleeting nature of invincibility that makes this such a complex and intriguing piece of work. Just as in The Bridges of Madison County, Eastwood shows a vulnerability that is more magnetic than his old omnipotence. And while the sub-texts of the newer film at first seem fairly straightforward - Eastwood's own troubled relationships with various estranged offspring, the ex-Republican mayor of Carmel's hostility to a supposedly venal Democratic White House, and by implication his bitter regret about the national political career he could have had but didn't - that is not the end of the story.

There is a squeamishness in this film about the actual exercise of power which is as healthy as it is unexpected. Gene Hackman's pursuit of his tender prey is so gross that even the most repulsive studio executive might be shocked by it. And while William Goldman's screenplay gives Eastwood some nice one-liners ("It's dangerous outside,"Clint's daughter warns him; he half smiles back, "It always is") and a lovely scene with the perennially undervalued Ed Harris, the star's own myth is not immune to the pervasive sense of unease. The authentic tenderness of his scenes with his daughter even carries a hint of self- reproach for past misogynies. And if Bill Clinton has got as celebrated a cinematic crypto-fascist as Clint Eastwood making heart- felt pleas for democratic accountability, he must be doing something right.

Vondie Curtis Hall's Gridlock'd (18) is three films in one: a rare and quite courageous insight into the parlous state of the American public health-care system; an unusual and ultimately affecting buddy comedy; and an unintentionally hilarious backstage drama about a terrible jazz poetry trio trying to give up heroin. The virtues and vices of the film will probably be equally overshadowed by the participation of the rapper Tupac Shakur, whose sudden violent demise (shot dead on the way back from a boxing match towards the end of last year) gives an eerie frisson to his character's repeated assertion that his luck is running out.

The sad thing about Shakur's performance in Gridlock'd is that it has none of the fatalism that has characterised so many of his other film roles. While he had already shown himself to be a charismatic screen presence in films such as Juice and Above The Rim, Tupac's previous parts tended, rather depressingly, to be apologias for his nihilistic rap persona. Here, however, he plays against type to triumphant effect. His casting as the amiable, well-grounded Spoon - constantly clearing up after his reckless friend Stretch (Tim Roth) - might easily have been no more than a pat reversal of expectations, but after a shaky start, the partnership gets stronger as the film progresses.

One scene, where Roth tries manfully to wound him with a blunt knife so they can go to hospital together, would be worthy of Waiting For Godot if that were as good as English teachers always say it is. Tim Roth's backstreet Stan Laurel is a bit much at first, but the great thing about Roth is that over a full 90 minutes he does have the power to make you forget how hard he's trying. It's a shame no such option was open to Thandie Newton's Cookie, a character whose desperation to appear bohemian ("Did you read my new poem? ...Where's my veggie burger?") would bring a blush to the cheek of Christian Slater.

Dinner looms large in the week's two art-house releases. Big Night (12) is a beautifully made light salad of seven parts Il Postino to three parts Fawlty Towers. In a film co-directed by two actors (Campbell Singles Scott and Stanley Murder One Tucci) the story might easily be drowned out by the mighty clash of egos, but if there is anything indulgent about this finely wrought chamber piece (and there is), it is an excess of modesty. A European art film in American trousers, its best moments - the twirl of a dancer's skirt, flames licking the ears of a combusting chef - are good enough to make you wish there were more of them.

Primo and Secondo Pilaggi are Italian immigrants, struggling to make a culinary name for themselves on the New Jersey shoreline in the late 1950s. One is determined to stay true to the culinary fastidiousness of the motherland, the other has his eye on fast cars and a fast woman (a beauti- fully marinaded Isabella Rossellini) and will do what it takes to get them, even if that means serving risotto with spaghetti on the side. And, well, aside from a barnstorming performance by Ian Holm ("Bite your teeth into the ass of life!") as a rival restaurateur, that's about it. Where the tastiest food movies - Babette's Feast, say, or Tampopo - garnish their platter with a little something extra, this is all feast and no feist.

The poster for The Spitfire Grill (12) promises a film "to kindle the hearts of everyone who cherished Fried Green Tomatoes ... " Like "a new BBC TV drama from the makers of Rhodes", this is one of those marketing ruses whose value must be open to question. In fact, this debut feature from amusingly named writer-director Lee David Zlotoff is more open- ended than the rundown-cafe-brings-women-together-and-enables-them-to-express- them- selves-more-fully-to-the-irritation-of-their-unfeeling-menfolk template usually allows.

Alison Elliot's poetically inclined white trash refugee drifts out of jail and into the small Maine town of Giliad in search of a new start. There she wins over Ellen Burstyn's ornery cafe owner and Marcia Gay Harden's put-upon housewife by the judicious employment of such charming homespun phrases as "You can say that twice and mean it." Needless to say, this is too much for at least one of the local alpha males and everything goes horribly pear-shaped. But there is a lot of lovely scenery and the madman living in the woods has excellent hessian trousers.

Last and definitely least comes Turbulence (18), a surprisingly unpleasant piece of Hollywood hokum wherein heroic air-stewardess Lauren Holly - up to now (and on this evidence, forever) better known as the other name on Jim Carrey's prenuptial agreement - tries to land a 747 in a hurricane while fending off the unwanted attentions of Ray Liotta's escaped serial killer. About five minutes of this film, notably scenes where Holly ("She's not a stewardess ... she's a flight attendant") is talked out of the sky by a hilariously camp Ben Cross, are life-affirmingly stupid. The rest is heartily commended to the Westminster council sub-committee on film censorship.

Cinema details: Going Out, page 15. Kevin Jackson is away.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
I'm not worried about United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Teaching Assistant / Learning Support Assistant

    £60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

    Welsh Speaking Learning Support Assistant

    £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Welsh Speaking Learning Support Assis...

    SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

    £300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

    KS1 Teacher

    £95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker